Law Firm Wants Records On EPA Employees Trying To Hide Texts With Encryption Apps

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A public interest law firm has launched an investigation into instances of federal employees using encryption programs, based on reports some workers were looking for incognito ways to coordinate against the Trump administration.

Cause Of Action (CoA) filed a Freedom of Information Act request Friday reminding EPA Acting Administrator Catherine McCabe of her “legal obligation to preserve records” and records created by agency employees on the encryption application for smart phones, called Signal.

“CoA Institute is concerned that these officials may be using Signal to avoid transparency laws in an effort to conceal their communications from internal and external oversight,” Ryan Mulvey, CoA’s counsel, wrote to EPA in a FOIA request obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

CoA sent its FOIA request after news broke that a small group of EPA employees were already “communicating incognito using the app Signal shortly after Trump’s inauguration,” according to Politico. Apps, like Signal, encrypt communications and make them difficult to monitor or hack.

Attorneys specializing in government records law told TheDCNF the use of encryption programs could violate federal laws if work-related, encrypted communications aren’t preserved.

“Their use of encrypted devices itself is irrelevant,” Chaim Mandelbaum, an attorney and director of the Free Market Environmental Law Clinic, told TheDCNF.

“It is the end product, the communication itself, not the means of delivery that matters. They must send a copy of the communications to the agency’s system,” he said.

Politico reported “a small group of career [EPA] employees — numbering less than a dozen so far — are using an encrypted messaging app to discuss what to do if Trump’s political appointees undermine their agency’s mission to protect public health and the environment, flout the law, or delete valuable scientific data that the agency has been collecting for years.”

“Under the Federal Records Act, the EPA has a legal obligation to preserve records evidencing employees working on government business, no matter the medium of their communication,” Mulvey wrote. “This obligation is all the more important if employees are using personal devices or accounts for that work-related business.”

Mulvey asked EPA for all “records created or received by any EPA employee on Signal” and all “records reflecting any permission, clearance, or approval granted to EPA employees by the agency, Archivist and/or the National Archives and Records Administration for the use of Signal, or other instant messaging applications.”

EPA isn’t the only agency with potential records problems. Department of Labor employees are using private email accounts to build opposition to Carl’s Jr. CEO Andrew Puzder, President Trump’s pick for labor secretary.

Trump’s order temporarily halting the U.S. refugee program, has been opposed by career Department of State employees who “gathered nearly 1,000 signatures for what’s known as a “Dissent Channel” memo in which they express,” Politico reports.

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